The World Cup draw in Doha has put Qatar 2022 even more in focus and will be mouth watering as the group stage fixtures are known and routes to the final can begin to be traced.
The tournament begins on November 20 with 32 teams aiming to reach the final and become world champions on December 18.
It is the first time the World Cup will be held in the Arab world and only the second to be held in Asia, after Japan and South Korea jointly hosted the event in 2002.
Gareth Southgate’s England have been drawn into Group B alongside the United States, Iran and Wales.
Plenty of other groups also provide storylines and we’ve picked out some of the biggest first-round matches to circle in your calendars. In chronological order, here are some of the matches to watch:
Senegal – Netherlands – November 21
The opening day of the World Cup kicks off with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador, but it’s the second match in Group A that really gets your heart pumping. Senegal are the strongest of the five African representatives in Qatar – as proven by their triumph at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year and their two-legged victory over Egypt to reach the World Cup – and a game against the Netherlands, three-time runners-up, is a tantalizing prospect which could also include Sadio Mane against his Liverpool team-mate Virgil van Dijk. The winner of this competition will be in first position to qualify from Group A
Belgium v Canada – 23 November
Currently number two in the FIFA World Rankings, Belgium are undoubtedly a world-class side, but they are still missing a trophy as their vaunted ‘golden generation’ continues to age. Roberto Martinez’s side will be heavy favorites in their Group F opener against Canada, but it is only the second encounter in the teams’ history – and a first in a competitive game – that will provide lots of excitement. The Canadians are taking part in a World Cup for only the second time, having made their debut in 1986, but have the talent to create an upset.
France – Denmark – November 26
Since Brazil in 1962, the defending World Cup winners have not defended their title, but France will be looking to reverse that trend in Qatar. They start with a game against the team that emerges from the intercontinental play-off between Peru and Australia or the United Arab Emirates, but Denmark could prove their toughest opponent in Group D. It will be a fourth match of World Cup between the sides, with an uninspiring 0-0 draw in Russia four years ago, the last clash, and Christian Eriksen potentially playing in a major tournament for the first time since his cardiac arrest at the Euros 2020 adds another procedural element.
Argentina – Mexico – November 26
The only match in the group stage between two teams currently in the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings, the Latin American derby between Argentina and Mexico could well decide who tops Group C. The teams are relatively consistent opponents on the international stage and Mexico chase a first win over the Albiceleste since the 2004 Copa America, having failed in ten attempts since. In what is likely Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, however, the Argentines won’t want to get it wrong.
Spain – Germany – November 27
Two European heavyweights who have undergone a rebuild over the past two years face off in a tantalizing Group E match on November 27. The World Cup will be a litmus test of how far both nations stand as they seek to reclaim glory. With five wins between them, they certainly have no shortage of history in the world showpiece and this match will be a rematch of the 2010 World Cup semi-final when Spain triumphed 1-0 thanks to the goal of Carles Puyol.
Iran – United States – November 29
Unsurprisingly, given the complex geopolitical relationship between the countries, Iran and the United States have only faced each other in men’s football twice in their history. The first such match was at the 1998 World Cup – with a delicately choreographed pre-match ceremony, where Iranian players presented Americans with white roses as a symbol of peace before Iran triumphed 2-1 for a very first victory at a World Cup Finals. The game has been described as the ‘most politically charged game in World Cup history’ and with relations between the countries having been through ups and downs since then, the 2022 encore promises to have its own unique atmosphere.
Ghana – Uruguay – December 2
Another group stage game with a memorable World Cup history, Ghana and Uruguay have only met once, but it’s a game that will live in infamy. In the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, the teams were tied at 1-1 heading into the end of extra time when Dominic Adiyiah’s header flew into the goal, only for Uruguay striker Luis Suarez to save blatantly shooting with his hands. Suarez was shown a red card but Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty, Ghana lost the shootout and sadly missed out on becoming the first African team in history to reach a World Cup semi-final. Suarez is surely still public enemy number one in Ghana and the fact that he could feature in the 2022 rematch adds some extra spice to this Group H game.